September 20, 2009

The ghost train of modernism

The militant modernist is of course right to resist any equation of techno-modernity with Nazism. Nazi time, with its mixture of the ultra-archaic and the technologically cutting edge, was in effect an anticipative taste of the postmodern, not any sort of logical conclusion of modernism. The temporality of Kraftwerk, meanwhile, was never one of simple future-orientation. The trans-Europe Express sounds like a steam train, and Kraftwerk's records are suffused with nostalgia for a future that never came to be. One of the many interesting things about Kraftwerk is the way that this what-if conjecture, this ghost train of German modernism, became the actual (Afrogermanic) future of music.

Incidentally, for comments and gloss on the concept of the communicational sublime that I auditioned in my review of the Kraftwerk reissues in the current issue of The Wire, see Antagonist. I don't know how much mileage there is in the idea of the communicational sublime, but there's certainly material in Kittler and McLuhan which would feed into any elaboration of it.

Listening to Trans-Europe Express over and over, I was reminded of two American travellers in the Europe of the 1970s, not the Iggy Pop namechecked by Kraftwerk themselves, but Tom Ripley and Jason Bourne. Bourne and Ripley - who has such grotesquely comic adventures aboard a train in Ripley's Game - are strange echoes of one another, lost in the communicational landscape of Europe Endless. "Rendezvous on Champs-Elysees ... Leave Paris in the morning on T.E.E. ... In Vienna we sit in a late-night cafe ..." The transport system of Europe is the backdrop for Ripley and Bourne's existentialist travails, which have opposite aims. Ripley deliberately uses the piazzas and street cafes of old Europe to bury his old self and forge a new one; Bourne, an amnesiac thrown into the black water , stalks through the banks and salons of Zurich and Paris for clues to who he is. In Ludlum's novel, "the Bourne identity" is part of a complex plot against Carlos the Jackal - a kind of proto-cyberpunk sim-persona that must disassemble itself. As I argue in Capitalist Realism, though, when Bourne returns in the Matt Damon films, it is as an avatar of post-Fordist plasticity: the identity that emerges from the constructed Bourne shell has no more depth than the Bourne-simulation itself.

Posted by mark at September 20, 2009 06:35 PM | TrackBack